On Earth as It Is in Heaven

Editor’s Note: Michael Novak, one of the founders of The Catholic Thing, passed away peacefully the morning of February 17 in Washington D.C. (See linked story under News.) We ask your prayers for our friend and colleague, and his family. – Robert Royal

People don’t take their bodies seriously. They are easily pleased with the formula, “seek pleasure, avoid pain.” Facing death, pain management becomes their principal concern. Everyone wants to die in his sleep. A big funeral might be nice; a big monument were that possible; but what happens to his body is of no concern. After all, he’ll have no more use for it. It may rot, or burn, but it will feel no pain.

We are all Gnostics now. We’re beyond caring what happens to our bodies. Which is odd, if we recall our old cave-man obsessions, for from the moment humans appear in the archaeological record, we notice that they bury their dead – with objects that betoken ritual. We took our bodies seriously back then.

Of course, I am exaggerating. I say, colloquially, “everyone,” when really I mean something like four in five. This is a proportion that I have arbitrarily selected, from recent polls that track support for legalizing “euthanasia.” This runs much higher than support for legalized abortion.

The question why this should be so has puzzled me. Even without religious faith, many feel uncomfortable with the idea of killing babies. In my experience, they are hung up on the notion that the child is “viable,” by the third trimester at latest. It can certainly feel pain, well before.

The most effective propaganda against abortion steers the audience towards thinking about that. The least effective stresses Biblical commandment or natural law.

Go to the Internet, and you will easily find imagery of living babies in the womb. Watch for a bit and you might easily imagine that killing a baby would be just like killing a baby. The creature is so viable-looking, and basic instincts kick in.

Whereas, the wrinkly old git waiting for his needle may not look viable at all. His body is well past its “sell by,” and time it was discarded. Even its owner agrees.

Some compromise is sought, to discourage later-term abortions, discrimination against girls, and so on. As the line moves back, the opposition to abortion weakens. Imperfect babies are the first to go. Next come the healthy, but not yet viable. The health of the mother is naturally considered, not only by feminists.

Eventually we get to about one-in-five opposed to abortion under any circumstances – about the same as oppose “euthanasia” under any circumstances. Those are almost invariably the “commandment” types.

Numbers are not important in themselves. I am estimating wildly. What people say, and what people do, yield quite different numbers. Church attendance gives a good example. Forty percent tell pollsters they attended church in the last week. Less than 20 percent were actually there.

St. John Paul II lying in state (photo by Ezequiel Scagnetti)

In other words, people don’t essentially care about their bodies. They don’t even worry about where they are.

What could I mean by this? Caught in self-contradiction, many would tell you they were there “in spirit.” They were absent only in body. They take it for granted the spirit is more important: “It is the thought that counts.”

Well yes, the thought counts, when it matches the action. Then one may be present, body and soul. But as Holy Church has been teaching for some time, the two cannot be separated. From material science we also learn that we can’t be in two places at the same time. Yet as we discover from statistics, more than half the self-described Christian population must doubt that is always true.

Let me summarize my argument so far. One person in five – at most – is “there” at any given moment. By “there” I mean, fully clued in. I have argued before, this is a problem for democracy – this “rule of thumb,” by which four in five now live in some vaporous “spiritual” state, in which only thoughts count. And their thoughts wander, never thinking anything through.

Of course, this doesn’t matter, provided that the Christian revelation is not true, nor anything like it. For if it isn’t, our lives, like those of the bacon-farm porkers, are fully dispensable, and may be dispensed with, provided that the arrangements for dispatching them are painless and “humane.”

Two generations have now passed since issues like these were considered so grave, that no one even thought of polling on them. We were then still living in an era where the categories “right” and “wrong” were accepted. Thanks mostly to the decline in Christian belief, that is not the era we are living in now. Today, unsurprisingly, we have only right and wrong thoughts.

What happens when you die, gentle reader?

I would guess, or at least hope, that readers of a site like this are NOT representative of the general population. Though I have no way to check. The rest, from what I can make out, expect no more pain. They will slide into nothingness, or be merged into the cosmic glee, or else they think they will retain some personhood, and go straight to Heaven. Any way they look at it, good news.

It’s the thought that counts. And as I learn, every time I stick around a funeral, the thought is cloyingly sentimental. Which is just what Christianity is not. Dear Auntie Dead is free of pain, I am told. She is reunited with Uncle Dead at last. How sweet!

Among the least sentimental Christian teachings is that, humans continue in body AND soul. When, where, and how they do so, after biological death, is beyond our comprehension, locked as we are in this temporal space; but being, while not being, cannot fly. Christ Himself was crucified, and dead, and rose again on the third day, and was not thereafter an optical illusion. Or so our believers are expected to believe.

I have no idea what my immortal body will be like, post-death. But two things are clear. First, it will be; and second, it will not necessarily be in Heaven.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.